What Happens During External Beam Radiation Treatment for Prostate Cancer
You can receive external beam radiation treatment (EBRT) as an outpatient. That means you may have it at a hospital or a clinic, but you don't have to stay the night. Usually you'll get treatment five days a week for a total of seven to nine weeks, depending on the type and dose of EBRT you get.
This type of radiation usually comes from a machine called a linear accelerator. These are the three kinds of EBRT commonly used to treat prostate cancer.
Standard EBRT. This type of EBRT directs radiation at your prostate from one direction. You lie on a table while the machine is placed over you. The experience is much like that of getting an X-ray, only it lasts longer. It takes about 30 minutes for the whole process. You'll get radiation for about five minutes of that.
Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT). This is a high-precision type of radiotherapy. It uses a computer to control both the shape and strength of the X-rays to precisely deliver radiation to specific places within a tumor, while minimizing the radiation exposure to surrounding normal tissues.
Standard EBRT is not used much anymore. Most doctors now recommend conformal EBRT or IMRT if it is available.
Preparing for radiation therapy
Before having EBRT, you may need to have a lymph node biopsy to see if your cancer has spread outside the prostate gland. You may be able to have the biopsy done laparoscopically. That means you'll have a few small incisions and the nodes will be removed with special, long tools inserted into the incisions. Or you may need a larger incision under your belly button to remove them.
Before your first radiation treatment, you'll have an appointment to plan exactly where on your body the radiation beam needs to be directed. This process is called simulation. The appointment may take up to two hours. Here's what you can expect to happen during it:
Some centers now use image guided radiation therapy (IGRT), which involves getting images of the prostate each day before treatment to adjust for the small changes in position of the prostate from day to day.